February 2 – 9:
Instead of taking the long eight hour bus ride back to Quito from the Amazon, we opted for stopping and smelling the flowers en route – in this case that meant viewing Ecuador’s largest waterfall (San Rafael) and soaking in the country’s most famous thermal springs high up in the mountains (Papallacta). Both were worth the stop.
Next it was onto the beach – La Libertad/Salinas – called the Miami Beach of Ecuador except much smaller and cheaper. We arrived during Carnival as did, it seemed, half of Ecuador. We had never seen so many people packed onto a beach – hard to even find a place to sit that first afternoon. Lucky for us we did not have to go back to work as did the crowds, so a couple of days later the beach was pleasantly quiet.
So, the beach is the beach, right? Sun, surf, sand…well, here is what we think makes the Ecuadorian beaches we visited a little different.
Vendors: whatever we wanted was sold on the beach. Tent and chairs? – We just rented it. Food – of course, and it was plentiful, cheap and varied. We did not need to take anything with us apart from bathing suits and towels. Hair braiding – Rachel liked that one. Boats, jet skis, kayaks, clothes, jewelry, beer, water, coconut water, and the list goes on!
Beautiful beaches: What struck us about the three beaches we swam at (Chipipe, Ayangue, Olon) was the clear blue water, perfect temperature, and the white soft sand. Just north of Salinas, the beaches went on for miles, undeveloped and, after Carnival, were pleasantly deserted.
Getting sick: We appreciate even more the fact that we can drink the water in Cuenca from the tap – not true anywhere else. From bug bites to digestive problems…we had it all. While that ceviche and seafood and beach food tasted so good going down, we paid a steep price later on! Bug bites, hard bunk beds, diarrhea and the heat in our hostel became insufferable so Wayne went hunting for a more comfortable place to stay. A block from our original hostel, he found a hotel with air conditioning, good beds, TV – we all agreed that was the best upgrade ever!
Ruta del Sol: A relatively newly paved road that goes up the coast with views of beaches all along the way. We stopped at a few beaches and also had lunch in Montanita, famous for its hippie, surf, party vibe. We might have gotten there too early to see it in full swing, but we got the idea and decided we might have enjoyed it more twenty or thirty years ago.